Michelle S. Lee
Corinne and Daniel have been together three years to the day when she found him in a souvenir beach shop in Vero. She had two days off from her job as an admissions receptionist at the Urgent Care and went south for a drive. She stopped for cheap coffee. He stood in the window next door to the café, blown-up plastic, and posed next to a surfboard.
She paused at the pane, seeing Tom Selleck in his golden days of Magnum P.I. when she was sixteen and did not yet feel thoroughly fucked like she did at twenty-eight. He was $25.99, plus tax, but that included his outfit (a faded blue cotton button-down and khakis) and his name, stamped on the bottom of his left shoe, a brown, precisely printed loafer.
Daniel fit perfectly in the front seat of her ten-year-old Camry, same one she drove in high school. Corinne knew she was crazy for buying a plastic man, but then he spoke to her.
“Thank you,” she heard him say in a matter-of-fact voice that caused her to believe in him more than she knew she should. “I was hoping.”
Corinne remained apprehensive for one main reason: that men, in her experience, lasted only until they found someone who was “more accessible.” But maybe Daniel, she thought, would be different. Besides, she had stopped touching people as a rule. Not even after four hand-pumps of anti-bacterial gel followed by size-small latex gloves. Day to day, behind plexiglass, clipboards, and a name tag that read “Ask me about Shingles,” Corinne just saw too much.
Today, their anniversary, Corinne wakes Daniel at dawn and drives them to a small, secluded inlet in New Smyrna where they will watch hot air balloons rise over Spruce Creek. Corinne packed egg sandwiches in foil, a thermos of black coffee, and a blanket because it is March, early, and the car heater is temperamental. She parks almost to the sand. A striped balloon is first to crest the water.
She leans across the armrest, puts her head on his shoulder. It still smells soapy from their shower the night before. A blue balloon joins the sky. She wonders if the earth looks far enough away from up there.
“I wait for moments like this,” she says.
Daniel wants to say, “Me, too.”
He doesn’t. Her contentment presses through his slick skin, fills him as much as it can. He listens to it fall deep into the hollow of who he is and thud to the bottom. In the same moment, he watches balloon after balloon sail into the morning.
Daniel had little memory of a time before her. Just a protracted hissing sound, like air slowly escaping from a hole he couldn’t see.
He wants to say, “Eventually, we won’t be enough.”
Michelle Lee is an associate professor of literature, fiction writing, and composition at Daytona State College. She’s been an editor of academic and literary journals, has published across genres, and has earned a Pushcart Prize “happy to be nominated” badge of honor for her poetry. Most recently, her words were published in the anthology, All We Can Hold, by Sage Hill Press and with Spry Literary Journal, Gingerbread House, and Literary Mama. This winter, you can find her work with Hypertrophic, Dying Dahlia, and LitBreak. Email: Michelle.Lee[at]daytonastate.edu